When Anne Frank received the famous red-checkered diary from her parents on her birthday in 1942, she wrote in an early entry that no one would be interested in the musings of a 13-year old schoolgirl. How wrong she was! Now, 78 years later, she’d be pleasantly surprised that The Diary of a Young Girl has been translated into over 70 languages and continues to draw over one million yearly visitors to the Anne Frank House, or Achterhuis (Secret Annex). It was there that Anne, her older sister Margot, their parents, and four others hid in a cramped 800-square-foot space for 25 months during the Holocaust.
As a teenager, Anne had no inkling that the journal, which she named “Kitty,” would outlive her, although she had hoped her recollections of life in the Secret Annex would someday be published. Even as she listened to gunshots outside on Prisengracht during the Nazi occupation, she clung to her long-term career goal of becoming a journalist and “famous writer.” Although Anne obtained posthumous literary fame from Diary, she was denied the opportunity of reveling in her accomplishments and acknowledging her millions of fans.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Anne and her struggles these last four months, as I’ve mostly been staying at home, first due to an illness, and then because of COVID-19 restrictions here in Helsinki. Although the current situation cannot at all compare to the Holocaust or the constant threat of discovery and death that loomed over Anne during her confinement, there is much fear in the world nowadays as we all confront an unpredictable virus and an uncertain future.
When I get distracted by distressing news and have trouble focusing, I turn to Anne as a role model and marvel at how she managed to write under tremendous duress and with little or no privacy. Not only did she fill all the pages of “Kitty,” but she continued penning her thoughts on scraps of paper. While she often wrote about the many struggles of subsisting on potato peels and rotten vegetables, outgrowing her clothes, the lack of heat in winter and the stifling heat in summer, she also filled her diary with messages of joy, courage, and resilience.
In one such entry, Anne claims that the best remedy for fear, loneliness, and unhappiness is to go outside into nature and feel the beauty around us. I find this sentiment astonishing, as she spent the last two years of her young life unable to leave the Annex. She couldn’t even get a glimpse of the world outside because the windows were blacked out, nor was she allowed to crack them open to breath the fresh air. The closest she got to “nature” was the view of a lone chestnut tree and the sky above from a window in the attic.
In reading Anne’s words and considering the conditions in which they were penned, I’m grateful that even though I’ve not met friends, dined out, visited a museum, or sung with my choir in the last few months, I am still free to walk outside on these gorgeous sunny days. The joy I derive in listening to the mockingbirds outside my window and inhaling the sweet aroma of the lilacs is magnified more now than in years past. I am also mindful that no fighter planes are hovering over my home; I can sleep peacefully through the night. Fresh food awaits in the fridge; I have hot water and am able to turn it on without worry. For entertainment, I can watch TV, listen to music, and play piano without the threat of being betrayed by my neighbors. Anne was not able to enjoy such “luxuries,” which I’m rediscovering with newfound appreciation.
Since Anne should be celebrating her 91st birthday today, but her beautiful, artistic spirit was tragically snuffed out at age 15, I am posting some of her timeless quotes here for inspiration. May you find comfort and meaning in them, as well.